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November 1, 2006 - Sports

Mr. Guy
Surfing for Dummies?
Some might call them airheads. Others might call them brilliant.

Photos courtesy of Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP)

The classic Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High captured the spirit of surfers best when he said: “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.”

Since 1982, when the film was made, that credo hasn’t changed. As long as the wave riders can get their ocean fix, the rest of life can take a backseat, i.e., who needs life when I can hide out in the waves? I’m not saying that all surfers are hang loose dudes who couldn’t care less about what’s going on outside their ocean, I’m just saying a lot of them are. I should know. I used to be one.

I started surfing when I was 13 years old. I still get in the water on occasion, but now, for the most part, I stay away. Because not only are the waters of California grossly polluted, but the ocean is overpopulated with groms and goons, and a sport that was once graceful and fluid has now become more aggressive and clogged, especially here in the States. The only way you’re getting an abundance of surf these days is if you have the cash to travel to faraway destinations.

As for surfers themselves, most of the stoked bros I grew up with are still doing the same thing I was back in the day: working construction, getting high and living for the next wave. I suppose if they’re happy, nothing wrong with it. Because it is certainly one of the greatest escapes ever invented.

For a select few, it is not only an escape, but a profession. A spectacle that has grown immensely. Thanks to the popularity, and much hype, of the whole action sports craze, surfers have been elevated to modern day gladiators of the water. Sometimes conquering waves as large as 60-feet. You want to talk “rush?” No drug is like it. And even on a small day, when you get tucked away in the barrel (also known as a tube ride), you can’t wait to go back for more – this is jonesing at the highest level.

At the highest level of the professional surfing chain sits 7-time Champion Kelly Slater. (You may have heard his name because he used to date Miss Baywatch, Pamela Anderson.) Winning seven titles in the sport is unprecedented. Not only that, but Slater holds the record for the youngest to ever win a title (20) and the oldest (33).

“Last year was the most incredible year I’ve ever had,” says Slater. That’s because he rebounded from a horrific 2004 season (in which he won zero contests) to pummel arrogant young gun Andy Irons and capture his 7th title.

This year Slater is at it again, attempting a repeat of last year’s championship. After four stops on the ASP Tour, Slater sits atop the leader board. With seven events to go, and definitely in “the zone,” he has a good shot at succeeding. Though his chances were dimmed a little when he had to pull out of the fourth contest due to a screwed up rib cage. But when the tour winds up at the most famous break in the world, the North Shore of Hawaii’s Pipeline, in December, expect Slater, the Jordan of his sport, to be on the verge of carving his name in the Plymouth Rock of Surfing forever.

Like Michael Jordan, Slater has the rare combination in sport of power and grace. He can fly off the wave and execute a 360 and drop back in, soul arch, while getting tubed, and look like the coolest cat around. Hell, he probably makes dolphins stand up and take notice.

Maybe the dolphins are onto something. Not just because they take notice of Kelly Slater (which obviously they don’t, unless we were really stoned and imagining it). But think about that perpetual smile that lights up a dolphin’s face. It’s the same smile surfers exude every time they paddle out into the lineup. Maybe there’s a secret here. Maybe the innocence of the water and what it breeds (a connection to nature), isn’t so bad after all. Like the old Cheers song said, “taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.”

Ah, the worries. Too many of them, playing old fashioned pinball on our psyches, causing us to be way over-stimulated. Blame the media, as they exploit our fears and run the 24/7 ticker on all that could go wrong. And of course, they’re manipulated brilliantly by our politicians. So, quite possibly, one of the best ways to escape all this crap, even if it’s a bit crowded, is to catch a wave and sit atop the world. It’s there you’ll be elevated to Spicoli status. And you may never want to go home.

Gone Surfing
So you want to learn to surf? Here are some tips.
1. No one can teach you how to surf. They can instruct you on what to do out there, but the only way to learn is to get out into the ocean and experience what it’s all about.
2. No one picks up surfing easily. It takes a great deal of patience and a good season before you even learn to stand up and ride the whole wave in. (Hint: when you first go out, don’t even try standing up. Start by riding the wave on your belly. Next progress to your knees, and finally, when you’re ready: put the pedal to the Styrofoam, stand up, and let it rip.)
3. Equipment is important. These days, the best board you can buy to learn is called a “fun shape.” It is much easier to paddle on than a short board (what Kelly Slater is riding), and it’s buoyancy gives you much more room to balance.
4. You’re going to be using upper body strength like you never imagined. Start training for it now.
5. Just like driving on a freeway, the ocean has rules. It’s important for you to learn them before you head out into the water. Check this site.
6. Have fun. Leave the aggressive city vibe behind. Om.

Surf over to Rick Cipes’ website www.theguyreport.com for more action.

Keywords: Kelly Slater, surf, surfing, ocean, sports, ASP Tour, Pamela, waves, Spicoli
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